We can’t say it was a “picture” perfect proposal because we’ve never been the best picture takers, and don’t have any from the actual proposal (and very few from the weekend). So, we keep the moment is engraved in our memories.
The surf teamed with leopard sharks as we launched our tandem kayak and paddled out towards the open sea. After an hour or so, we stopped to rest our arms. With the beach in the distance, our only company was a pelican and the stillness only broken by the hacking barks of sea lions. I turned around to talk to Josh and was surprised with a proposal!
How long had Josh been working to set up this perfectly romantic scene? All of 24 hours. But I’ll let Josh tell his own story…
It Starts With the Ring
Shopping for the engagement ring was lame. It was not my favorite thing. Everywhere I went I was upsold. If I had had access, I would have made my own. I’ve always been creative and grew up going to art fairs with my mom. I also wanted a personal touch. When I was a kid, my dad made my mom a wooden mirror. It was beautiful and fantastic, the perfect gift. That definitely left an impression, so I’ve always believed that anything special in life should be personal.
I thought about finding a hippy jewelry maker but ran into the challenge of where to buy a stone. I still plan to create a ring some day, but didn’t want to delay the proposal too long, so I ended up going corporate, but at least chose something meaningful; the design has the feel of a dihedral with a chockstone).(it’s beautiful and perfect, Aminda butts in to add)
So, finally I can move on to the proposal. It has to be on top of a rock. Where else, dinner? Aminda was obsessed with climbing. She had seen some pictures online of a place in Big Bear, California that looked to have a perfect pinnacle. We made plans to go over Labor Day weekend. The area turned out to be a little disappointing compared to the pictures. After two days we felt we had fully sampled the routes. And that cool pinnacle? Was really a 20-foot boulder overlooking a parking lot. There isn’t really such thing as a bad summit— I didn’t need to waste time chasing the perfect towering peak with breathtaking view – but this one just wasn’t inspiring. So, I started thinking about what else was cool to do in the area. I had really enjoyed my time kayaking in La Jolla Cove and Aminda had never been, so it seemed like the perfect detour.
I had been carrying the ring around all weekend in a zippered pocket and moved it to our daypack for our kayaking. (Aminda definitely noticed how overproctective he was being with the backpack, but didn’t catch on, she was still surprised!) I was kind of winging it, didn’t really know how to do it out there in a compressed space and with Aminda’s back to me. But I for sure wasn’t going to back down— if I didn’t do it on the water, the only other option would be on the beach and that would be way too lame. Plus, I was happy to get the ball rolling on our wedding!
The early evening sun dropped behind Camelback Mountain bathing the boulders in shade and providing relief from the summer heat.
Next to one of those boulders, scattered about the base of the mountain, I found Josh, waiting with a big grin on his face and a warm welcome, even for the girl with the attitude.
Just like the mountain crags were muted by the dusk, my sharp edges instantly softened around Josh, as happens to people meeting him. I quickly knew that I wanted him to be a part of my life. We swapped tales of our shared loves of mountain biking and climbing. He intrigued me with stories of his canyoneering and rafting adventures (activities I hadn’t yet tried, but was excited about) and inspired me through his fledgling business and ministry.
My birthday was the next week. Being a work night, I chose to celebrate with a night time mountain bike ride. Just as I arrived back at my front door, my cell phone buzzed. Josh was calling to invite me on a canyoneering outing. Though we just met, I couldn’t be happier to share my birthday with him.
A couple weeks later, Josh joined me for a night ride. Our canyoneering adventure followed soon after. He welcomed me into his adventures and we started to create new ones all to ourselves. Five months after meeting, Josh spent Christmas in Oregon with my family. Things were getting serious.
I met Josh when I was 27, a time when many college friends had been married for a while and starting families. It was starting to feel like maybe I had been left behind. But thankfully, I’m never forgotten or left behind – there is always a plan and purpose in place for my life. Even when I almost get in the way of myself. In this case it was a plan very much worth the wait – our life; our adventures together have been bigger than I dreamed.
I’m so thankful for these times in my life where God’s faithfulness shines. Whenever I feel impatient or stuck, I love to reflect back on these stories.
“For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” Jeremiah 29:11
So, this started as a travel blog, but there is much more to our lives than just travel and outdoor adventures. Faith and family are at the center. Especially now that we’re promoting a marriage book.
While we’ll continue to add family travel posts, we’ll also start a series of relationship posts as part of “Wedded Wednesdays.”
This April marks our 10th wedding anniversary, so we have a couple months to share the story of our marriage. Let’s start with how we met. The story our of meeting involves climbing, of course, and starts with a mutual friend, Susan. How Aminda met Susan is a story in itself.
It was the spring of 2004 and time for the annual Phoenix Bouldering Competition, a local rock-climbing event. Because the Comp was held on BLM land about 90 minutes outside of Phoenix, participants and spectators alike would camp out and make a weekend of it. I was going to cheer on some friends and had made plans to camp out with my good friend Kristi and a group that included a guy I had recently dated (but was no longer). I was not really looking forward to joining them, so I was happy to run into another friend as I drove through the camping area. “Sure, you can camp here with us,” Chris said, before introducing me to his companions, Dan and Mick.
The highlight of the competition was the finale party where vendor booths provided product demos and entertainment. I’m not a huge drinker, but with the alcohol being so cheap and plentiful, I let myself indulge more than usual. So much so that I was too embarrassed to visit a booth I really wanted to – “Solid Rock Climbers for Christ.” Since taking up the sport of rock-climbing two years before, I had yet to meet any climbers who were also Christians. How wonderful it would be to spend time with people who shared both my faith and my favorite pastime.
When the competition ended Sunday morning, Dan and Mick invited me to climb with them. At the crag, we met another group of three– two guys and gal. One of them wore a t-shirt from “Solid Rock climbers for Christ.” Thank you God for giving me a second chance to connect with them!
Like me, Susan, wasn’t planning on being there that day—she had also met her partners at the event. What a coincidence! I didn’t leave without getting her contact information so we could get together again.
At the time I of course had no idea that this connection would eventually have such a life-altering impact on my life. I love reflecting back on this story and how God was moving. Sometimes when I’m feeling stagnant or getting restless for change to happen, all I have to do is remember stories like these, stories of how even the most mundane circumstances can be aligning to produce greatness. What about you? Where can you look back and see God at work in unexpected circumstances?
For Josh’s birthday weekend (which conveniently falls over Memorial Day), he chose to spend two days climbing a 1000 foot sandstone wall known as Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park. Along the way we camped out on a portaledge.
Why did we do this? Well, the short answer is that it’s just a really cool thing to do. You may wonder if it took us two days to climb because it was extra tall? Well, no, we’ve climbed just as tall routes in one day. So, was the route just so hard that it took us a lot longer? Well, kind of.
Normally, when Josh and I climb we stay on the rock by using only our own hands and feet (a rope and harness provide safety in the event our own strength doesn’t keep us on the rock). This type of climbing is called free climbing. But back in early days of the sport, climbers, without today’s modern gear, had to wear big clunky hiking boots, which limited their free climb ability. So they developed other techniques, which when utilized are called aid climbing. These techniques, while refined, continue to be used today to complete routes that are too difficult or too tall to ascend freely.
Now, there is a wide range of free climbing difficulty. You may have seen a video of a guy named Alex Honnold climbing Moonlight Buttress without even a rope. So why does it take us two days to get up a route that takes Alex two hours? Well, that’s because in all sports you have your professional sponsored climbers and then you have the rest of us. Josh and I are of pretty average ability free climbers.
The Moonlight Buttress route can be climbed without using aid. But aid lets average climbers like us ascend a route we wouldn’t normally be able to. That said, there are actually plenty of available routes that we can free climb that we would stay busy without aid climbing.
So, another reason routes like Moonlight Buttress are aid climbed because they are good places for climbers to hone their aid climbing skills before attempting longer, more difficult routes. El Capitan, the prominent granite tower in Yosemite, is one of the best examples. At 3000 feet tall with some very difficult free climbing sections, only two people have ever ascended the entire formation without using some form of aid climbing. El Capitan is such a big undertaking that before attempting it, it’s important for aid climbers to practice their techniques on shorter routes, like Moonlight Buttress. This is why the term “big wall” is used to describe these types of routes.
To ascend a rock face without standing directly on the rock, climbers stand in nylon ladders. Nylon ladders limit one’s range of motion, significantly slowing the speed of ascent.
When Josh and I complete a route in one day, we carry a small day pack with water, snacks and first aid items. Spending the night requires more food and gear than we can carry on our backs. So that requires the additional task of “hauling” gear up the wall, slowing the ascent further, requiring specialize technical skills creating more physical work.
So… getting back to why we’re doing this. For one, the learning involved is kind of a natural progression for someone like Josh who climbs for fun but also has a job requiring extensive rope skills. However, a lot of what makes free climbing fun, the physical movement and technique, is lost in aid climbing. Aid climbing is also very physical, but it’s the more tedious and laborious type. Which is what Josh wants to get away from when he climbs for fun, and why he’s drawn to free climbing.
Our friend Ryan however, who we climbed Moonlight Buttress with, is a true wall climber. He gets super psyched about the whole process; including the added challenges of problem solving, organization and logistics that go into a multi-day ascent.
There are two things that motivate both of them to put in the extra work. One is the summit. The harder one works at anything in life, the more they enjoy the reward, and that’s definitely true in climbing. Josh has two previous unsuccessful attempts at summiting a wall climb and was ready to put those behind him.
Aminda can’t really answer this question very well. Yet. I was blessed that Josh and Ryan basically let me tag along on this trip. While I had done some basic aid skills practice in preparation to ascend as a second, my limited experience kept me from contributing much to the demanding work of leading and hauling that is required. I had more time during the day to chill out and mindlessly watch the constant circuit of Park shuttle busses below and the endless line of hikers on Angel’s Landing hikers, which we could see down canyon.
I was excited to experience the other perk of aid climbing — the vertical camping. A good comparison is backpacking. Sure, you may be physically capable of hiking 10 miles in a day, but it’s whole different experience to split that up and spend a night in solitude. (and like in backpacking, we follow basic Leave No Trace principles)
So, after a tiring first day, we arrive at our camp “site” (called a bivouac, or bivy for short) at about 8pm, as the sun was getting low. The last of the Angel’s Landing hikers, are heading off the summit. We spend about an hour setting up the ledges and organizing our gear. (What we don’t do at any point, day or night, is take off our harnesses. At all times we are safely connected to the wall.)
Finally, after a long day of standing in our nylon ladders, we collapse into the comfort of the ledge, eat some dinner and enjoy the experience. Zion Canyon, normally full of thousands of people, gets quiet and still. As the sun goes down the sharp edges of the surrounding towers fade into the graying sky, which fills with stars, the magnitude of which lull you to sleep. Waking up, the world is bright and you fully realize that you just spent the night suspended in space, hundreds of feet off the ground. That’s pretty surreal.
This week our trip winds down as we start our journey back south. Hard to believe—the last six weeks have gone so fast. The timing is perfect, though—we’re tired. Tired of carrying a pack, tired of hiking up (and down) steep hills, tired of wearing really uncomfortable shoes, tired of tweaking our bodies into unnatural positions. We’re ready for a week of R&R (well… maybe less) until we miss it again.
It’s difficult though. We’ve both really enjoyed Squamish and feel like we’re leaving with too many routes undone. We’ll miss the soft grades–good for the ego. We’ll miss pitches that have you use as many tree roots for holds as you do rock. Just good motivation to return.
And while Canada doesn’t exactly feel “foreign”, we’ll miss buying groceries with loonies and toonies. We’ll actually miss guide books that utilize the metric system, since that’s way more compatible with the ropes which are manufactured in metric lengths. And of course we’ll miss the beautiful scenery and friendly people.
This week the weather jumped from cold and rainy to dry and hot ensuring we got to the crags early to get the most out of the morning shade. Rest days found us doing touristy stuff… going to the farmer’s market, touring the Olympic Park (pretty unmemorable, sorry to report) and hanging out in Whistler Village — a cool outing since there was a mountain biking festival taking place. Which of course had us jonesin’ to get on our bikes again!
We’ve settled in to our current temporary home outside the coastal town of Squamish, BC. Or as we’ve affectionately come to call it – “Squish”. With several days of cloudy, rainy weather that seems to describe the landscape of the Pacific Northwest quite well—a groundcover mud, moss, roots and pine needles that takes on a permanent moistness being in constant shade under towering pines. But you sure can’t beat the wonderfully fresh, piney air that results. And after a few days the clouds parted and we could finally see the beautiful mountains surrounding us.
We’ve found some creative ways to entertain ourselves while it’s been raining. We join the rest of the fleece-clad crowd at the comfortable, friendly local library to bum the Wifi. We’ve had some wifi issues on this trip with our normal library stops being unreliable. Previously we’ve gotten on-line everywhere from a Jiffy Lube to a Safeway store to the Laundromat.
We’ve watched movies in our tent, soaked our muscles in the hot tub at the community pool and consoled ourselves with large quantities of Nutella. (found here in a large size jar under Walmart’s “Great Value” brand…to our amusement)
Our campground is nestled in the peaceful forest at the base of The Chief, the granite cliff that presides over the valley, reminiscent of Yosemite’s Half Dome, attracting climbers from around the world. This climber’s camp is a hybrid – with walk-in sites that are more spacious and private then Camp 4 (thankfully, we were blessed to snag one of the more secluded ones) but with less amenities than you’d expect at say you’re typical state park campground. Sites are basically limited to a tent pad but there are plenty of communal picnicking areas available for the young, social crowd.
Above the noisy, dirt-bag, “what are you twelve, where are your parents?” crowd, sits the reason we came here—trad climbing on granite. Perfect cracks lead the climber up granite walls high above the town of Squamish. Great vistas and excellent climbing creates smiles from ear to ear and some sore feet and hands as well!
This week’s Ticks
The Bulletheads. Cream of White Mice and Xenolith Dance – COWM had an OK first pitch, rest was unmemorable. XD was slabby fun, first pitch had some nice underclings and crimps, second was pure friction.
Cheakamus Canyon. Slipped in a couple nice, long, well-bolted sport routes in the evening once the rock had time to (mostly) dry after morning showers.
Two factors have most influenced our climbing over the past week – the weather and the mosquitoes. The weather has actually been fantastic… we’ve only had one drizzly day and actually managed to get some climbing in that day on a wall under large imposing roof. The challenge is that the rain is really unpredictable. We’ve been finding ourselves climbing on rainy days and planning rest days only to find that the 60% percent chance of rain never produces a drop. It’s been a bit tricky.
We came prepared to battle it out with the bugs and we have. Deet, citronella, you name it, we’ve got a layer of it covering our skin. It’s been a wet summer up here producing swarms of blood suckers. Josh seems to be particularly attractive to them and I’ve actually read one study that may actually explain this better than him just being so nice and sweet. Mosquitoes may actually be repelled by cortisol, a chemical produced in response to stress. Josh being such a laid back guy probably doesn’t have as much of this natural repellant as some of us more up-tight personalities.
And it’s sure easy to be relaxed around here. We enjoyed a couple days clipping bolts at Lake Louise—the iconic Canadian Rockies image—jewel colored water surrounded by towering peaks, imposing glaciers and endless forests. And hordes of tourists. But we’ve been able to get away from the crowds by enjoying a couple of multi-pitch route, which provide views in every direction.
This week’s ticks
Lake Louise – fun cragging. Routes aren’t all that memorable but there aren’t too many other places you can clip bolts in such a beautiful alpine setting.
Tunnel Mountain; Ballista – great eight pitch limestone route. Short approach, varied climbing, lots and lots of bolts. Just bring your helmet, lots of loose rock.
We’re finally at our destination of Banff National Park and we’re happy to stop driving. It was starting to seem like the driving was never going to end. At least until we crossed the border – those kilometers fly by so fast it made us feel like we were making really good time. So far the Canadian Rockies look a lot like – the Colorado Rockies. Beautiful. And not hot. Perfect.
We haven’t suffered any culture shock yet, just mild sticker shock. The weak U.S. dollar makes foreign travel pretty rough. $40 each day for entrance fees and camping is hard to stomach for us budget conscious dirtbaggers who like to hang out for a while in one spot. Good thing we’re not hooked on camp fires, since it’s an extra $8 to have one. OK, we’ll stop whining now. Did we mention how beautiful it is?
Our last U.S. stop was Eureka, MT, where we explored the climbing along a lake that straddles the border: Koocanusa (a fun word to say out loud…try it). This word is created from three parts: Kootenai (the name of the forest it’s in + Canada + USA (the lake crosses the border). Clever, eh? (Just trying to practice our Canadian language)
We were pretty excited about exploring Montana—the climbing in the state is somewhat mysterious but rumored to be excellent. So we dug through guidebooks and picked the brains of local mountaineering shop employees and found…well, not much. Montana climbing consists of a bunch of extremely scattered small crags that all seem to be south facing, ie. scorching hot all day. Yeah, yeah, it’s Montana not Arizona but really, a rock face baking in direct sun is going to be hot whether it’s 90 degrees or 115.
But the climbing at Kookanusa, or Stone Hill as it’s known, has been worthwhile. Plenty of accessible crags and variation from steep, bouldery mixed routes to thin, balancy bolt sport lines. Much of the rock still gets afternoon sun, but if you start early enough you can get a nice day in then go take a dip in the lake.
Shout out to Barrell Mountaineering in Missoula and Rocky Mountain Outfitters in Kallispell for their friendly service.
Josh and Aminda are excited to have embarked on summer road trip 2010! Our goal is to explore the crags and mountains of Western Canada. We already found that our biggest obstacle to embarking on this trip wasn’t job or time related…it was regaining possession of the passport that Josh had sent for renewal.
Dealing with this arm of government bureaucracy is…well, frustrating to put it mildly. Anyone who is responsible for the actual processing of passports seems to be completely impossible to contact. 100% impenetrable. And there is an entire team of employees working diligently to ensure that the people who actually know anything about your passport absolutely cannot be disturbed. Unless you send them a letter. Yes, a letter via the U.S. postal service. (Seriously. Like this is still 1950). To which they might respond either by mailing you a letter back or by phoning you. But you better have your phone glued to your hand because they won’t leave a message, a name or a direct call-back number. Anyway…phew…guess we should let that go, now.
We only have two months to travel this year and we know it will go fast. Our transportation has changed – instead of the crusty old ’85 Toyota truck (still running with only 300K miles) we’re cruising in the (well, slightly) more stylish ’92 Toyota Corolla. It’s made even more stylish by the addition of a roof bag (and a blue pinstripe). The downside is that we can’t take out bikes along. The upside is that we have a better stereo, automatic transmission and best of all, air conditioning (and of course a sexy blue pinstripe).
After talking with so many climbers from all over the country last year, we came back last year with a long list of areas that need to be climbed. So our journey is taking us a different direction this year. The first leg has taken us due north through Utah and Montana. While Utah is best known for its imposing desert towers that are more pleasant in the winter, we’ve found plenty of beautiful high-elevation crags to keep us entertained—it’s been so nice that we’ve hung out a bit longer than planned.
One of those locales was Maple Canyon.* The crowd here was really laid back and friendly. So friendly that one evening we returned to our campsite to find that a family of seven was using it for a picnic. We casually asked if they were staying overnight and the one English speaker just shrugged and said “no, just a couple hours”. (It was already approaching 9p.m.) Then we asked them if they realized that this was a campsite that they had paid for, he had about the same response— “We won’t be here long”… Shrug. (uh, okay, you didn’t notice our tent 10 feet from your corn on a stick) Then I (Josh) thought he might want to buy my Corolla, so I pointed at it and said “not for sale.” That seemed to get them moving. Wow, that was weird!
Then I felt bad that I didn’t sell the Corolla to them. I just can’t face the thought of not looking at the blue pinstripe everyday. So when Aminda noticed a couple of ladies driving around looking for a campsite, we were quick to offer up our as a great place to BBQ into all hours of the night.
Alrighty then. Thanks for that interesting perspective, Josh.
*Maple Canyon was a blast. The rock is a conglomerate, walls embedded with various stones and river rocks. It takes some getting used to. Most of the routes are short, steep and well bolted. With short approaches, cheap camping (unless you stay in the group site with 7 random strangers who want to buy your car) and plentiful shade, it makes a perfect summer climbing destination.
Our next stop was Big Cottonwood Canyon (but don’t worry, my corolla is not intimidated by the word “big”). Little CC gets the most hype but we hoped BCC would be a better summer spot. We can’t really compare the two, but found BCC to be a nice & scenic. Quartzsite is great rock and the routes, mostly trad craggin’ and short bolted multipitch were generally aesthetic, particularly this one.
We hope the New Year is off to a happy start for all of our friends and family -we pray that each of you will have an amazingly blessed 2010.
Josh and I were happy to start the year off with one of our favorite traditions, a climbing trip to Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area, near Las Vegas, NV. This is the 5th time we’ve started the year off in Red Rock, and the first year we’ve enjoyed the flexibility of being able to travel after the New Year’s weekend, avoiding the inevitable crowds.
For anyone vacationing in Vegas finding themselves in need of a break from the bright lights and noisy slots of the city, Red Rocks provides a welcome retreat. The landscape is dominated by sandstone formations, reminiscent of Sedona, but with a different feel. Where Sedona is puncturated by striking, fiery orange, angular towers, Red Rock’s brightly colored hills sits like short, squat bulges. But on the other side of the canyon stand Red Rock’s mountainous formations – more subtle and muted in color, but still imposing.
A loop road allows visitors to easily view the entire canyon, but it’s worth it to plan time to get out for a hike to stretch the legs and get some air. Through the shadow of the hills, the canyons are littered with colorful boulders in various shades and patterns: pink, mauve, burgundy – spotted, striped or striated.
Red Rocks ranks up near Yosemite as one of our favorite climbing destinations. In addition to the beautiful landscape, sandstone allows us to maximize our time spent climbing, being a rock that is less abrasive on the hands then those such as granite. This time of year can be a wonderful time but also a challenging season for desert climbing. It’s hard to get more perfect than a sunny winter wall – comfortably warm but not brutally hot. On the other hand, during the winter daylight is short and nights are cold.
Short days mean less opportunity to climb some of the longer, more interesting routes in the area. These can involve hikes of an hour or more each way just to get to the start of the climb, which really eats into the day. Occasionally we’re ambitious, setting the alarm to rouse us before dawn so we can hit the trail as early as possible, but this year we relaxed, enjoying some shorter but still fun routes closer to the parking lot. It just means we’ll have plenty to do when we return in the spring.
We entertain ourselves on these long hikes by reminiscing about our previous trips. There was the time we were surprised by a herd of mountain goats. The day we couldn’t find our route and ended up just hiking around with packs full of gear that we never got to use. The year that rain finally drove us to the strip for New Year’s night, where we could only handle the drunken crowds until about 10:30.
Normally on the cold nights we hit the tent early, bundling up in cozy down sleeping bags to talk about the day and plan for the next one before enjoying a full night’s sleep. We’ll remember this trip as the one of improvisation. We were less prepared & organized then usual, having forgotten to bring a few cooking and toiletry items And with our usual climbing shoes still being resoled we were both climbing in a back-up pair of shoes. We’ll also remember the impulse purchase of dozen day-old donuts which we unsuccessfully tried to savor beyond their shelf life. While we may not have enjoyed the donuts so much, we’ll enjoy a good laugh out of the experience for years to come – and that will be more than worth the $1.99.